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A nun's life in two churches.

I tell people that I have lived in two churches: the church prior to and after Vatican II, and one was not necessarily better than the other--just different.

I was the cradle-Catholic child of New York cradle-Catholic parents and Guardian Angel Elementary School, staffed by the Dominican sisters, enhanced my faith. At some point during those eight years, Angelo Roncalli was elected to the papacy. I do not remember this event.

Three years later, on Oct. 11, 1962, when the council opened, I was a sophomore at St. Michael Academy, founded by the Presentation Sisters. Those years introduced me to the council's intent and teachings, but barely; teenage girls rarely take a deep interest in church affairs. However, I do recall an event that struck me as strange at the time. Religion appeared to shift in direction. In my junior year, my religion teacher suggested I read This Tremendous Lover by M. Eugene Boylan. Inwardly I thought: How strange is this, that my religion teacher would suggest I read what appeared to be an "erotic" love story! I would learn in the years to come that this book is one of the classic texts about God.

As with all young Catholic girls pre-Vatican II, entering the convent was definitely an option I considered. However, this thought wavered at times, especially when I served as a bridesmaid in my cousin's wedding All I could think of was how exciting it would be to get married.

Yet, in the end, that ever-present desire in the core of my being won out and two months after I graduated from high school, I entered the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh, N.Y. It was 1965, and four months later Vatican II came to a close.

Why did I become a nun? The answer is so simple. I remember the sisters in my elementary school as warm and happy women. I wanted to be like them. (On the intriguing question of why I am still a nun, more later.) I thought my future as a Dominican sister would be a lifetime of teaching in an elementary school. The idea of becoming a theologian would have sounded surreal.

My first real introduction to the council came as a postulant. The Documents of Vatican II served as one of our basic texts, and my original copy is extensively annotated, especially the document on the renewal of religious life.

As postulants back then, we were basically kept "separate" from the professed sisters. We did have contact with the novices (who'd entered the year before us) and that shift in direction I'd noticed as a high school junior was now starkly obvious.

In 1965, had anyone observed the "training" differences between that year's postulants and the novices they would have thought they were straddling two centuries. The terms "old school" vs. "new school" barely begin to tell that story.

One example suffices, a telling one that will set heads nodding among nuns of that era. If a novice inadvertently broke something, she would appear before the novice mistress in fear and trepidation to "confess her fault." Following their example, we postulants did the same. I remember my first experience at this. The postulant mistress asked me: "Did you do this on purpose?" When I answered no, she responded: "Then just be more careful in the future." The element of fear had been removed, the element of personal responsibility introduced. Religious life was entering a phase of new self-understanding. I'd begun to get glimpses of the new ways of thinking and acting that Pope John XXIII's council was encouraging in the life of the church.
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Author:Sullivan, Maureen
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 11, 2012
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